The Devil of Light

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The Thursday mystery teaser from the bestselling first Cass Elliot novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

“What are we tying it up for?”

“Do you know how to tell if a deer’s alive?”

“Good point. By the way, that’s a dollar for the cuss bucket. Might be two. Don’t know about dickweed.”

“What is your obsession with the cuss bucket? Mom’s not even around.”

“The more you put in, the sooner I eat all the pizza the all-you-can-eat buffet will let me.”

“It’s alive,” Mark said, rubbing his shirtsleeve across his forehead as they finished hog-tying the deer.

“How do you know that, Einstein?”

“It snorted. Or farted.”

“Great.”

“Lift on three.”

Grunting with the effort, they heaved the unconscious deer into the back of the Vega. The car moaned with the added weight, creaking as they shoved the lifeless body deeper into the hatch area. Breathing heavily, they leaned against the car.

“You get us into some serious messes.”

Photo by Philip Graves on Unsplash

“Hey man, it could have been you. The coin just flipped my way, and –”

“What’s that?” Matt asked, pointing into the woods. A light bobbed faintly in the distance.

“Not a flashlight.”

“More like a torch.”

They exchanged grins and trotted for the tree line, watching for a fence but finding none. The boys spotted a reddish glow and pushed underbrush aside to change direction, marking their trail. They moved forward another fifty yards and the smell of campfire underpinned with a slight tang hung in the air. The torchlight had vanished, either by virtue of distance or because it had been extinguished.

“Ouch! Damn honey locusts. I hate those things.”

“That’s another dollar,” Matt said.

“Shut up.”

They came to the edge of a clearing and hovered outside the perimeter, watching for movement. It was a crude circle no more than twenty feet across, a natural break in the woods rather than an area hacked open by man. The remains of a fire glowed inside a protective circle of small stones. Larger stones provided seating around the fire pit and the boys moved forward eagerly.

The seating stones were still warm and the stench hung heavier here. The underlying tang they had smelled in the woods had blossomed into a stinging odor.

“Nasty.”

“What did they cook?”

“Something with feathers on it,” Mark said, pointing to white down that clung to the stones ringing the fire.

“Think they would’ve plucked it first.” Matt stepped into the woods and twisted a branch from a bush. He poked at the ash. “They couldn’t have eaten it. Too foul.” He honked with laughter. “No pun intended, of course.”

“Lame, dickhead. If they didn’t eat it, what’d they cook it for?”

Matt shrugged, using the stick to scoot a small bone to the edge of the pit. “They leave anything?”

The two scavenged around the fire and made a quick survey of the surrounding woods, Matt returning to pick up the cooled bone. He turned it over in his hand as Mark wrinkled his nose. “Gross. Put it down.”

“Nope. It’s a talisman.”

“No it’s not.”

“It is if I say it is.” Matt shoved the bone in his jeans pocket and wandered around the clearing, eyes focused on the ground.

Mark scratched his chin, torn over the possibility that the bone could be a talisman, and then grabbed the stick and scooted a larger object out of the ashes. Using the hem of his shirt, he plucked it from the stones and bounced it between his hands until it cooled. “Mine’s bigger than yours,” he said, shoving his find into his brother’s line of sight before tucking it in his pocket, where it bulged.

“In your dreams, nimnod, we’re twins.”

“Let’s go. I’m hungry.”

They wove back through the woods, arguing over how best to inform their mother about the accident. As they cleared the tree line, Mark stopped in his tracks. “Dude.”

“What?”

Mark pointed at the car, where a pair of angry eyes glared through the side window. “It’s awake.”

About The Devil of Light

“This debut effort is further proof that there are undiscovered novelists out there who can more than keep up with the big names. I expect we’ll be hearing more of Gae-Lynn Woods in the future.” — Russell Blake, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Geronimo Breach, Fatal Exchange, and The Zero Sum trilogy.

A BIZARRE MURDER

When young Detective Cass Elliot responds to a 911 call at the home of a prominent businessman, she finds him violently murdered in the barnyard with his battered wife unconscious near the tool that killed him. Still raw from her own unsolved attack six years ago, Cass is stunned when confronted with graphic photographs scattered across their kitchen floor that lead to a shadowy sect called The Church of the True Believer.

A COVERT WEB OF LIES AND EXPLOITATION

Cass and her partner Mitch Stone delve into a cunning world of blackmail and violence – and find a cult concealed for nearly a century beneath the genteel, small town façade of Arcadia in East Texas. Their investigation triggers a brutal response from powerful men who will protect their identities at any cost. They unleash a ruthless killer whose actions create a media frenzy and destroy the fabric of trust within the police department.

A PERVASIVE EVIL

Cass and Mitch circle closer to the cult’s few members, following a slim lead into a night lit by fire. A night that begins with a blood ritual and ends with Cass holding a man’s life – or death – in her hands and struggling to walk the fine line between vengeance and justice.

Get it on Amazon.

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |     Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Friday reading

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With bestselling author Gae-Lynn Woods

To help break readers’ sense of #covisolation in these strange times, BestSelling Reads authors are reading selections from their books on Tuesday evenings on Facebook Live.

Here is the latest: Gae-Lynn Woods reads from the Cass Elliot Companion Mystery, A Case of Sour Grapes.

Join us Tuesday evenings on Facebook Live for more live readings by your favorite bestselling authors.

Follow BestSelling Reads on Facebook to get advance notice and reminders about coming readings and other events.

A Case of Sour Grapes

A Case of Sour Grapes - mystery by Gae-Lynn Woods

Wine, women, and song. What could possibly go wrong?

Meet Maxine Leverman, lover of expensive shoes, beautiful handbags, and her lingerie wearing ex-husband’s hush money. When she pleads her way into a job at family run Lost and Found Investigations, Maxine’s only goal is to gain the concealed carry license and PI skills she needs to find the man who attacked her, and then kill him. (Or maybe just put him in jail, that decision can wait.)

But when she secretly takes a missing husband case on her first day at the agency, she stumbles into a high-stakes game of blackmail and murder. Maxine must unravel the links between a forgotten folk punk band, an international drug cartel, and the tangled history of the missing husband to keep the women in his life alive.

Fans of the early Stephanie Plum novels and Stuart Woods’ Holly Barker series will love Maxine’s tenacity, grit, and lust for life.

Get it on 

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Gae-Lynn writes the Cass Elliot Crime Series. When she’s not playing the roadie, tending to cows, fixing fences, or digging post holes, Gae-Lynn is working on the next Cass Elliot novel and the next Companion Novel featuring Maxine Leverman, Cass’ best friend, who makes her debut in AVENGERS OF BLOOD.

Gae-Lynn can be found:

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Avengers of Blood

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A Thursday mystery teaser

By Gae-Lynn Woods

GOOBER WAS A MYSTERY. He’d appeared one morning about forty years ago, nestled in the gnarled roots of the ancient hanging tree on the courthouse lawn, abandoned in the middle of the night. In spite of announcements on the local radio station and in the newspaper, the toddler’s parents never came forward to claim him. An elderly widow took him in and over time, Goober became a fixture in Arcadia. The odd man was probably closer to forty-five than to forty given the silver that peppered his nearly black hair. People said that Goober wasn’t truly retarded, but Martinez wasn’t so sure. Goober hadn’t finished high school and his ability to read and write was limited. Granted, he was always polite and seemed eager to help, but there was a slowness about the man, almost an innocence, that Martinez thought reflected some sort of mental challenge.

He stiffened as Forney County’s Forensic Examiner, Tom Kado, came through the gas station’s front door. As Martinez had done, he nodded briefly at the officer near the door and stopped to remove the booties covering his shoes. He shoved them in a plastic garbage bag and rubbed his eyes. Kado was new to the force, having joined only a couple of months ago. Martinez found the younger man arrogant and disrespectful of the last forensic examiner, Hank Comfrey, who had held the job for nearly five decades before dropping dead of a heart attack earlier this year. Kado was full of new procedures and science but didn’t seem to trust his gut as old Comfrey had. Martinez wasn’t sure the science was all that reliable. The wariness he felt for Kado was justified when a crucial DNA sample in a recent case was found by the state lab to be contaminated. If Martinez was the detective assigned to this murder, and he surely would be because there were no other detectives in Forney County at the moment, Kado would have to walk the straight and narrow to Martinez’ satisfaction. He met Kado at the tailgate where Goober sat, still torturing the baseball cap.

“You okay, Goob?” Kado asked.

Goober nodded but his gaze was glassy and his face devoid of color. Kado climbed up in the pickup’s bed, opened a cooler and passed a root beer to Martinez, then took one for himself and Goober. He took the cap from Goober’s hands and replaced it with an open can. “Drink.”

Slowly, Goober did. “Thanks,” he said, burping quietly.

“You up for talking?” Martinez asked.

Goober nodded.

“Why did you come to Whitehead’s tonight?”

“I ran out of potato chips.”

Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

Martinez looked at the mower parked by the station’s pumps. “Did you pump gas?”

“I was gonna check her after I got the chips.”

“What time did you get here?”

“Right about five-thirty.”

“You sure?”

He pulled a beat-up Timex from a pocket and held it out. “It was almost five-thirty when I came around Church Bend.”

Martinez compared the little watch to his own. It was two minutes fast. “Did you pass anybody on the road?”

“Naw, my mower don’t go that fast.”

Kado bit back a smile, and the detective’s jaw tightened. He tried again. “Did you see any other vehicles on the road?”

“Just some tail lights.”

“Where?”

“When I was coming around Church Bend.” He turned and pointed into the night. “A car was farther down the road.”

“What kind of car?”

Goober shrugged. “All I saw was red lights.”

“What happened when you got to the store?”

“I went inside to make sure Mr. Whitehead was still open.” He blinked. “There was gas on the floor. And then smoke came out of the door in the back. So I went to see what was burning.”

“Why didn’t you call the fire department right then?”

“I was scared,” he answered in a small voice.

“You were scared but you headed toward the smoke, to the fire?”

Goober nodded, his eyes fixed on some distant, internal point.

Martinez and Kado exchanged a glance. “What happened next?”

“The smoke was bad, but the back door was open. I heard a noise and went outside and saw… the zombie. He was hanging.” He shuddered and root beer sloshed onto his overalls. “And black all over.”

“Did you see flames?”

“He was breathing fire. Like a dragon. I tried to put it out.” Goober’s eyes filled with tears and he drew a deep, stuttering breath. “But the zombie fell off the rope and started to get up. I figured he was coming after me. He fell and I ran away.”

Avengers of Blood

A deadly game of cat and mouse is playing out in Forney County…

Detective Cass Elliot is still on suspension after killing a fellow officer and Sheriff Hoffner refuses to sign her release papers. But when four people are murdered in one night, one with the exceptional brutality of a lynching, the Medical Examiner side-steps Hoffner to hire Cass and loan her to Forney County’s overstretched police department.

As Cass and her partner investigate, they realize that three of the murders were committed by the same person but find no connection between the victims. Their frustration intensifies when another victim survives and disappears instead of coming to the police.

Sheriff Hoffner is frantic about anonymous letters claiming one of his star officers is dirty, and Cass suspects a link to the current crimes. The pieces fall together when she uncovers the true identity of the man who was lynched, revealing connections between the victims, the killer, and an unpunished crime committed nearly fifty years ago.

Gae-Lynn Woods

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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The Devil of Light

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Enjoy this week’s Thursday teaser-excerpt from the bestselling first Cass Elliott mystery novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

“ARE THE COWS HURT?” Angie Scarborough asked as they entered her room. She struggled to keep her eyes open as Dr. Ramasubramanian checked her pulse. The left side of her face bloomed red and raw in the fluorescent lights, the white of her eye now a slit of angry scarlet between her swollen eyelids.

A narrow hand snaked from a dim corner next to the bed, reaching to stroke her dark hair. “Now sweetheart, just calm down.”

The younger woman pulled away, eyes clearing. “Are they hurt?”

“Ma’am, were you driving the truck?” Mitch asked.

“The cows,” she demanded, straining to push higher on the pillows.

“They’re fine,” Cass answered, closing her eyes briefly against the hospital’s antiseptic scent and the memories it evoked. “None were injured.”

“Thank God.” She found the position she’d struggled for and settled with a tired sigh. “I guess you want a statement.”

Cass glanced at Dr. Ramasubramanian. The thin man nodded once, balding head gleaming in the overhead lights. “Yes, ma’am, if you’re strong enough to talk.”

“Now Angie, you should wait until we’ve got a lawyer down here.” A pinched woman leaned toward the bed, her face strained in the bright lights. “Think of the children.”

“For once Mother, I am,” she said, softening her words by reaching for the slender hand. Angie drew a shuddering breath and focused on Cass. “I killed Lenny. You found the pictures?”

Cass nodded.

Angie’s eyes filled with tears. She pointed to her face. “He did this when I confronted him. He’s hit me before, but never like this. He’s usually smarter, tries to hide the damage. Maybe he knew what was coming and didn’t care.” She fingered the smooth sheet. “He didn’t deny it. Any of it. Just laughed when I told him I’d found him out. He laughed, can you believe that?”

“What are you talking about?” her mother asked.

“Your perfect son-in-law is – was – a homosexual and abusing your granddaughter.” The older woman gasped as the sound of Angie’s choked laughter filled the small room.

“Lenny was no such thing,” her mother said, voice sharp. “He has always been a kind and gentle husband, and has given selflessly for the children. Detective,” she added, watery voice growing stronger as she pulled herself into the light, “I insist that this stop right now. She’s suffered a severe shock seeing her husband killed like that. And she’s confused from the sedative the doctor’s given her. I may need one myself if this goes on.”

Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

“That’s enough, Mother! You have no idea who Lenny was. I will not bend to him any longer.” Her words were firm, eyes bright as she found Cass again. “I told him I’d take the pictures to the police. That’s when he started to laugh, and he hit me. It must’ve knocked me silly, because next thing I knew I was flat on the ground and Lenny had gone back to working on the cows.” She drew a deep breath.

Dr. Ramasubramanian shifted his slight weight and placed a hand on Angie’s shoulder. “The police can wait, Mrs. Scarborough. I would like for you to rest now.”

“Not yet, Dr. Rambo. I need to finish it.” She focused on Cass. “I don’t know if it is my daughter in those pictures. Maybe it doesn’t matter. All of Lenny’s preaching at me for all these years, and it was nothing but lies. I knew it wouldn’t stop. So, I climbed in the cab, punched the accelerator and speared him.” A ghastly slash split her face when she smiled. “He turned at the last minute and I watched his face in the rearview mirror. He didn’t think I had it in me.”

“Did he say where the photos came from?” Cass asked.

Angie shook her head. “He just laughed.”

“What photos are you talking about?” her mother asked.

Cass had looked to Mitch when Angie spoke, her tired voice flat. “Pictures of your son-in-law screwing other men and raping at least one child. Pictures don’t lie, Mother.”

“Oh my goodness,” the older woman whispered, skin growing sallow as she looked at Cass. “Lenny? Is this right?”

“There are photographs, but we haven’t confirmed identities yet.”

“Lenny’s in them,” Angie replied. “He has scars on one hip and on his chest. The right side. Match them to his body.”

“Good heavens,” her mother breathed, eyes rolling back in their sockets as she slid toward the floor. Mitch lurched for her as Angie started to giggle, developing a deep belly laugh that brought tears to her eyes.

Dr. Ramasubramanian shouted for a nurse and rushed to help Mitch move the older woman to a chair. He checked her pulse, his dark, solemn eyes watching Angie as she cackled.

“Fainting is a suitable Southern response to anything vulgar, Dr. Rambo. Wave smelling salts under her nose and give her some attention. She’ll be fine,” Angie assured him, blowing her nose. She sighed, cheeks glowing and good eye twinkling. “Lord, I feel better. Look, you might as well sit down. I need a Dr. Pepper and I’ll be fine. Who has change for the machine?”

About The Devil of Light

“This debut effort is further proof that there are undiscovered novelists out there who can more than keep up with the big names. I expect we’ll be hearing more of Gae-Lynn Woods in the future.” — Russell Blake, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Geronimo Breach, Fatal Exchange, and The Zero Sum trilogy.

A BIZARRE MURDER

When young Detective Cass Elliot responds to a 911 call at the home of a prominent businessman, she finds him violently murdered in the barnyard with his battered wife unconscious near the tool that killed him. Still raw from her own unsolved attack six years ago, Cass is stunned when confronted with graphic photographs scattered across their kitchen floor that lead to a shadowy sect called The Church of the True Believer.

A COVERT WEB OF LIES AND EXPLOITATION

Cass and her partner Mitch Stone delve into a cunning world of blackmail and violence – and find a cult concealed for nearly a century beneath the genteel, small town façade of Arcadia in East Texas. Their investigation triggers a brutal response from powerful men who will protect their identities at any cost. They unleash a ruthless killer whose actions create a media frenzy and destroy the fabric of trust within the police department.

A PERVASIVE EVIL

Cass and Mitch circle closer to the cult’s few members, following a slim lead into a night lit by fire. A night that begins with a blood ritual and ends with Cass holding a man’s life – or death – in her hands and struggling to walk the fine line between vengeance and justice.

Get it on Amazon.

Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods, mystery, thriller, comic thriller

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Thursday teaser: A Case of Sour Grapes

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A Case of Sour Grapes - mystery by Gae-Lynn Woods

This week’s mystery teaser comes from the acclaimed novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

PARKING AROUND THE SQUARE was a nightmare during business hours, but I managed to slip my Lexus into a spot vacated by the flower shop’s delivery van. The hike up the steps to the agency’s second floor offices seemed much steeper than I remembered from my interview yesterday. Well, interview might be a little strong. I called Aunt Kay to tell her I wanted to be a private detective, and after she stopped laughing and got the hiccups under control, she invited me to come in for a chat. It took a while to convince her that I was serious, that this wasn’t another flight of fancy from her daft niece. She finally relented after I talked non-stop for forty-five minutes. Thank goodness for that. I was going hoarse.

But now that the moment of truth had arrived, standing outside the door with “Lost and Found Investigations — No Job Too Big or Small” written on the frosted glass, nerves fluttered in my stomach. I wasn’t sure I was up for this. I knew for sure I wasn’t up for being a police detective like my best friend. That girl had balls of brass. Mine were more like copper: warm and pretty, but easily dented.

This is it, I told myself. The point of no return. Here’s to finding my rapist.

I shifted my lucky Louis Vuitton bag higher on my shoulder and twisted the doorknob before my Blahnik’s walked me right back down the stairs. Three pairs of green eyes, each a variation of my own, glanced up at me.

Cousin Cindy smirked. “Maxine Leverman finally arrives. Ten bucks, please. Everybody pay up.”

The agency was beautifully designed. Four glassed-in offices opened onto the reception area, one each for Babby and Kay, one for Cindy, and the last for temps or in this case, me. The glass walls were on tracks and remained open unless a meeting demanded privacy. The rest of the walls were a pale blue, and the building’s original hardwood floors were covered by Persian rugs and runners. Morning light fell through the skylights and the sense was of an open, airy space. Except for Cindy’s office, which had an artfully placed Japanese screen hiding her clutter. The rest of the area housed a conference room, storage closets, a fully equipped kitchen, powder room, and a full-sized bathroom.

Aunt Babby scowled as she dug in her purse. “If you’d waited until ten o’clock, Maxine, I’d have won. Five more minutes. If you’re going to be late, do it right girl, and help your aunt win some hard cash.”

I pulled off my over-sized shades and placed the bag of donut holes from The Palace on Babby’s desk, and the large envelope from the bank on Aunt Kay’s desk. “You three had a pool on when I’d get here?”

“Not just the three of us,” Cindy said. “Jake the janitor thought you’d make it by ten after eight. Silly man. But Arty was the real skeptic. He didn’t think you’d get here until noon.”

“Who’s Arty?” I asked.

“The gorgeous lawyer who rented the other half of the floor. Cindy’s been trying to get her talons into him since he arrived,” Kay answered. “He saw you come upstairs yesterday. Cindy filled him in on your less attractive attributes, time-keeping being one of them.”

I sipped my extra large coffee from The Golden Gate and watched as Babby peeked in the bag. She seemed to battle with herself for a moment, but finally picked a donut hole and popped it in her mouth. Her eyes rolled. “Grease, flour, and sugar make up for many a shortcoming, sweetie pie, but next time bring me a cinnamon roll.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Aunt Babs. With Max’s track record, you’ll be eating donuts every day.” Cindy stood and smoothed the black pencil skirt over her shapely hips and sauntered to the door. “For the record, Arty’s into me.” She shook her mane of chestnut colored hair and checked her teeth for lipstick in the mirror near the agency’s door. “Be back in a flash.”

Babby plucked another donut hole from the bag. “I’m off to the post office and bank. Given that it’s hot enough to fry chicken, I’ll be driving. Show Maxine that financial stuff, Kay. See what she can do with it.”

About A Case of Sour Grapes

Wine, women, and song. What could possibly go wrong?

Meet Maxine Leverman, lover of expensive shoes, beautiful handbags, and her lingerie wearing ex-husband’s hush money. When she pleads her way into a job at family run Lost and Found Investigations, Maxine’s only goal is to gain the concealed carry license and PI skills she needs to find the man who attacked her, and then kill him. (Or maybe just put him in jail, that decision can wait.)

But when she secretly takes a missing husband case on her first day at the agency, she stumbles into a high-stakes game of blackmail and murder. Maxine must unravel the links between a forgotten folk punk band, an international drug cartel, and the tangled history of the missing husband to keep the women in his life alive.

Fans of the early Stephanie Plum novels and Stuart Woods’ Holly Barker series will love Maxine’s tenacity, grit, and lust for life.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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Thursday teaser: Avengers of Blood

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This week’s mystery excerpt comes from the bestselling novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

CASS WORKED STEADILY, PAUSING only to haul broken sections of cabinet to the backyard and toss them on a growing burn pile. The air conditioner had been off since she and Bruce started work early this morning, and the summer heat built as the day wore on, bringing a sticky humidity that caused the dust and grit from their demolition project to hang nearly motionless in the air. Cass stopped to wipe the sweat from her face and take a swig of cold water. It had taken the better part of the day to remove most of the wall and base cabinets from the kitchen, leaving only one cabinet squatting in the corner.

She had no complaint; sweat was her salvation. The physical work cleared her mind and her fears about the future wept out through her pores. She could forget about Mitch Stone and the pain she’d endured since that devastating night in the spring. Her dreams were still riddled with the image of his face as she’d seen it through the small window in the ICU door — pale, motionless, devoid of life. The phantom scent of a burning building caught her at the most improbable of times and alternate outcomes to that night played continuously through her mind. It had been over six weeks since she’d been suspended — the banishment, she called it — from the police department, and even though she’d found solace in hard labor and power tools, doubt over the outcome of the Firearm Discharge Board review had taken a toll.

Cass finished her water and slid the crowbar between the countertop and cabinet, jammed it home, and levered the top up. It sprang free with a shriek. Cass turned at a giggle to find a tiny ballerina watching.

“Hey, Auntie Cass.”

Cass put the crowbar inside the cabinet and smiled at her niece. Phoebe was swathed in pink, from her ballet slippers and seashell pale tights and tutu, to her fuchsia leotard. Cass wiped the dust from a seat at the scuffed kitchen table and lifted the five-year-old to the chair. “You look gorgeous. What are you up to?”

“Going to jazz class.”

“Why are you wearing your ballet outfit?”

“I’m a princess, Auntie Cass, and this is my gown.”

“Oh,” Cass said, as Harry entered, guilt on his face.

“Can you take her?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

Harry pulled gingerly on the refrigerator’s duct-taped handle. He removed a pitcher of orange juice and poured glasses for them. “Do you remember the Martins?”

“Of course.”

“We’re working for them and they’re not happy with what the interior designer is planning.” He glanced down at Phoebe, but the little girl was bobbing her head to an internal rhythm, oblivious to the fact that the interior designer was her mother.

“Why don’t they talk to her?”

“Drama.”

“Ah.” Harry and his estranged wife Carly shared an architectural and design business and were known for their innovation. Carly also had a well-deserved reputation as a diva, and the firm had lost several clients over her refusal to change her designs to suit the client’s wishes.

“I need to smooth things over and knock the designer off her high horse. Can you take Feebs to town?”

“Sure,” Cass said, glancing down at her filthy clothes. “When?”

“Class starts at seven-thirty.” Harry leaned down to kiss his daughter’s head. “I’ll pick her up. Thanks, Cass.”

She looked at the dusty kitchen clock as the screen door slammed shut. An hour and a half to go. “Okay Feebs, what’s next?”

“Supper.”

“Right.” Cass ran a finger along the stove top and looked at the grit it gathered. “I’m not cooking tonight.”

“Uncle Bruce always cooks.”

“Good point. How about a burger from Chubby’s?”

“And a chocolate shake?”

Cass considered the fallout that would arise from the inevitable spatter on Phoebe’s pink ballet outfit, and decided that Carly’s wrath was well worth the price of retaining favorite aunt status. Even if it cost Cass a new leotard and tutu. “It’s not Chubby’s without a shake.” She touched her tangled hair. “I need a shower. Want to come upstairs and watch TV while I get ready?”

The little girl nodded and pulled a sparkling tiara from behind her back. “Mommy won’t let me wear it outside ’cause I might lose it. But it’s okay if I’m with you, right Auntie Cass?”

Cass recognized the crown Carly had received when she was named Fire Ant Queen years ago. It was a tacky thing made of paste jewels that formed hearts and something meant to resemble a fire ant. Her heart warmed at Phoebe’s transcendent grin as she settled the shiny crescent on her niece’s head, and she wondered only briefly how much a new tiara would cost.

About Avengers of Blood

A deadly game of cat and mouse is playing out in Forney County…

Detective Cass Elliot is still on suspension after killing a fellow officer and Sheriff Hoffner refuses to sign her release papers. But when four people are murdered in one night, one with the exceptional brutality of a lynching, the Medical Examiner side-steps Hoffner to hire Cass and loan her to Forney County’s overstretched police department.

As Cass and her partner investigate, they realize that three of the murders were committed by the same person but find no connection between the victims. Their frustration intensifies when another victim survives and disappears instead of coming to the police.

Sheriff Hoffner is frantic about anonymous letters claiming one of his star officers is dirty, and Cass suspects a link to the current crimes. The pieces fall together when she uncovers the true identity of the man who was lynched, revealing connections between the victims, the killer, and an unpunished crime committed nearly fifty years ago.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

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